Bruno Issues Ultimatum on Rent Law Talks

NY Times, June 1, 1997
ALBANY, N.Y. -- With time running out for negotiations over state rent laws, state Senate majority leader Joseph Bruno is insisting that his house will pass only one rent bill before the laws are to expire June 16 -- even if that bill is totally unacceptable to the Democratic-controlled Assembly.

Bruno's ultimatum means that if the Senate and Assembly cannot reach agreement on a compromise bill by the end of the day June 15, the Senate will simply pass its own measure. It will then be up to the Assembly either to accept the Republican bill -- which is likely to call for eliminating most of the rent laws -- or to have the laws expire.

Those laws restrict rent increases on 1.1 million units, almost all of them in New York City, and provide an array of protections to some 2.5 million tenants. Democrats have called for continuing the laws.

In remarks over the last couple of days, Bruno, a Republican of Rensselaer County, also insisted that he would not continue negotiations once the Senate passes its own bill, even if it is just a one-house measure.

In saying that, Bruno was trying to underscore his seriousness about resolving this issue as early as June 11, the last day that the Legislature is in session before the laws expire.

Some people have interpreted those remarks to mean that he will not negotiate on the rent issue beyond June 11. Bruno has said that he will not allow the Senate to approve any temporary extensions of the rent laws to buy time.

But a spokesman for the majority leader said Saturday that Bruno has left the door open to passing a bill right up until the minute the laws are scheduled to expire, at the end of the day June 15.

"All he's saying is we will pass one bill, either a one-house or an agreed to bill," said John McArdle, Bruno's spokesman.

Bruno's comments seemed intended to kick start the virtually nonexistent rent negotiations. Talks between Bruno, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, and Gov. George Pataki have been completely unproductive, as have negotiations among the three men's top aides.

New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani criticized Bruno's comments Friday.

"I do believe that he is using this as a negotiating device and that's wrong," the mayor said.

The main sticking point in the talks is a policy known as vacancy decontrol, under which rent controls on apartments are lifted once the current tenants move out or die. Vacancy decontrol, if approved, would eventually lead to the demise of the rent regulation system, though how long that would take is unclear.

Bruno has said he will not accept any agreement that does not include vacancy decontrol. Silver has said he will not accept any measure that does include it.

Pataki, who has endorsed vacancy decontrol, seems to be open to accepting some partial form of the policy.

Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company